Names vs. Words: Strings for Identity vs. Strings for Information

There is a long-standing tradition of distinguishing names from words — although it is not formally codified (even language itself is not “set in stone”, but rather is undergoing constant evolution — much like a living being), it can be roughly said that whereas words are in the (or a) dictionary, names are strings listed on specialized lists (e.g. baby names, trademark names, names identifying a company, product, service, etc.).

The purpose of names is to identify, and ideally a name should uniquely identify something (or someone). In an ideal world, a name would signify just one thing and exclude everything else. Try to explain that to John or to Joe or to Jane Doe and you will quickly realize we do not live in an ideal world. It seems that so-called “last” names were introduced several hundred years ago in order to more specifically exclude other Johns and other Joes … and perhaps some day soon we will again have to figure out how to make names like Jane Doe uniquely refer to this Jane and not that Jane.

Such thinking is what leads many to think that the most perfect name is a name which is the most extremely exclusive. Rare is good, unique is best.

Names have some similarity to words in selecting particular things, but they are also crucially different. Certainly no one would ever want to confuse eating with sleeping, and to mix up sex with rex would make many actors and tyrransauri in heaven rather “most irate”. Language does aim to specify, but it does not aim to specify uniquely. We eat many times over, we sleep many times over, we do and experience all sorts of things over and over again — more or less.

Therefore, although rare words exist (as do common words), I do not know of a single word that could be described as unique. Likewise, I very much doubt that a universal word ever existed (though it seems as though this is alleged to be the beginning of everything, as we find in the very first book of the Bible, Genesis, the statement that “in the beginning, was the word”).

Today, we have a much more refined understanding of language. We understand that languages are not formed by decree or by other kinds of government regulation or state control. Instead, they evolve according to the needs, wishes, whims and rational preferences of living people — in a sort of evolutionary process guided by principles much like “supply” and “demand” (and also the physical dexterity of the vocal apparatus, etc.). In some ways, language may perhaps be understood to evolve in symbiosis with humans, rather than being a technology devised by humans.

There is little doubt in my mind that so-called natural language is the most basic of all information technologies, especially if you include such messages as are conveyed by intonation, gesticulation, facial expressions, body language, etc. into your notion of natural language. The importance of this fact is usually overlooked when people discuss “information technology” (IT) today.

The main point I wish to make with this post is the following: It is very important to discern between names and words. The information technology (IT) functions referred to as “search”, and also “community”-oriented information retrieval must rely heavily on words (as only words/language can function as the basis of communication). In sharp contrast, identity is the opposite of  what is commonly referred to as “social” — it must be exclusively private, and ideally it would actually be unique.

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How to Constrain the Freedom to Choose the Best of all Possible Worlds During an Era of Uninterrupted Progress

Over the past couple days, I have dragged some of my closest friends and relatives — in some cases almost kicking and screaming (though perhaps not the very dearest ones) — and pretty much forced them to read my previous blog post… and also to discuss it with me. One result of all this mental anguish is this current blog post I am writing — but please: If you haven’t read the previous one yet, then you really must first read it  (why not do that now?).

I will simply assume you have already read it (which is quite certainly not very hard to do),

I thought I had been able to simplify away so many treacherous problems with one of my favorite quasi-progressive ideas (especially those that go beyond the status of mere typographical errors) — but it still seems as though I was mistaken and hitherto remain uninfallible. 😐

My greatest error seems to be my unpardonable doubt that the current world is indeed the best of all possible worlds — as the incessant toil of legislators, lawmakers and the like do not apparently lead rational people to disbelief in current laws but rather to a steadfast doctrine of the present situation above and beyond anything that has ever come before (since it is now undeniably long gone since at least yesterday). My disbelief in the present state is almost universally scoffed at as underdeveloped, a sort of “heathen savage” world view… and awe and amazement over the fact that anyone would ever question the present state of progress as the undeniable best of all possible worlds.

Never for a moment do any of my interlocutors pause to wonder why legislators and lawmakers alike do not stop and retire once they have achieved perfection.

“No!” they say: “We must limit the ability of free people to live in the past.” (or something more or less equivalent and/or along those lines). For example: No one must be so free as to choose slavery… and this is unfortunately not merely paradoxical nonsense (note that every currently living American today enjoys fruits produced from the hands of slave labor, whether that be some technological product, the clothing they wear on a daily basis or the White House which was built by slaves for the esteemed American President to reside in).

Well, in order to keep a quickly lengthening story at least somewhat short, I have scrambled to find a stopgap — and this is what I have come up with: First, no one may choose a system of laws from any time other then when they have already been alive (and perhaps also living under those laws). Second, no person may ever be subjected to laws they have not at some point previously lived under (besides that sacrosanct case in which lawmakers / legislators / whatever make new [+ “improved”] laws). I hope these two added caveats might prevent and/or stop many if not even most of the loud, annoying objections from people who protest too much.

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How to Fix the World via the Legal System

I have long since been a big fan of Edmund Burke — the “father of modern conservatism”…. He was probably far ahead of his time, but for today, I feel he is no longer far ahead of our time. What is more: I think I myself have figured out a way to improve on his ideas about conservatism.

These ideas I have, I started having them during my college years… but I have just now added one significant extra twist which make them far simpler to implement.

The basic idea is this: People should be able to live out their lives under a single system of laws and not have to worry about whether laws might change at some point in time. The main reason why this is problematic is that lawyers (or legislators, or whatever) keep changing the laws … and therefore law (remember how Tom Paine wrote that “in America, law is king”?) is a constantly moving target. The problems, therefore, might get extremely complicated if people are born at different times… as in the meantime (between their dates of birth) some of the laws may very well have changed.

The “extra twist” I came up with today is this: There should be different levels of fixedness — I think perhaps four of them. The law we have today — basically: fully “variable” law (and by that I mean the laws could change at any time) — could be called “free” law (because we don’t have to “pay” anything for it — at least not apparently so). This is what everyone has today (whether they like it or not).

To this I would add 3 levels of more “fixed” laws: 1. uniquely fixed law; 2. strictly fixed law; and 3. affordable fixed law. Affordable fixed law (a sort of privilege) could be bought at a rather affordable rate, and it would fix the law a person is subjected to to the law of a specific calendar year. Strictly fixed law would fix it to a particular date. Uniquely fixed law would go above and beyond that and fix it to a unique point in time. This reasoning adds some significant ideas. First, moving from free law to affordable fixed law to strictly fixed law to uniquely fixed law, one would advance from lesser privileges to higher privileges — in other words: the higher privileges would trump the lower levels of fixedness. Also, this would introduce something like market forces into the system — the price of affordable fixed vs. strictly fixed vs. uniquely fixed law could be set at the beginning, but might be allowed to rise and fall with the sentiments of how much people wish to invest in having such a level of reliability.

That is the basic idea, redux. I will leave it at that for now — at least I have finally written it down and posted it for all the world to see. :)

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To Read or to Be Read

When I was a kid, I used to go to the library a lot… and read books. Before reading them, I would need to find them. For those of you unfamiliar with this process: This was the prototype for most search engines (back then, people studying this process went to “library schools”, graduate programs for “information science” — and the field specifically focused on what is today referred to “search”, back then it was called “information retrieval”).

But reading is not really something “for specialists only”. Before graduating high school, regular folks also had to learn about publishing. For example: They needed to know that books have authors, that they were published by publishing companies, and so on.

Online, titles, authors and publishing houses became domain names. There are also numbers which refer to computers — perhaps this is roughly equivalent to the way people would refer to specific shelves where specific books were stored (this system of naming shelves, which was used in the earliest libraries, would later give way to so-called “call-numbers”, a system whereby a book was given a specific sequential number where it could be found). The biggest difference between traditional libraries and the Internet is probably the fact that online, the cataloging and indexing systems are integrated into the same system as the writing that they catalog / index. Although professional abstracting and indexing services also published such volumes (which looked very much like “regular” books), and these books were usually also given call numbers, putting them on par with the more ordinary literature, the librarian was the person who made this decision… and the librarian was the person ultimately responsible for maintaining the catalog (and also for choosing what would be included in the library’s collection).

I guess only quite novice users would assume that if something was not in the library (and/or the library’s catalogs) that it would not exist.

Contrast that with today — where there is now an entire generation of kids who seem to believe that if something cannot be found in Google, that it doesn’t exist.

Even though the rate of illiteracy today is quite astounding already, I now observe also that in recent years an entirely new trend is catching on. People are becoming ever less concerned with reading or writing or behaving as functionally literate persons. Instead: They are becoming more obsessed with being read… — meaning that someone (or some company) is able to trace their moves. Whereas it is becoming ever more rare for people the read or write anything resembling written texts (and/or “literature”), it is becoming ever more commonplace for people to clutch on to gadgets which track everything such quantified fetishists seem to place such a high value on. The typical quantified fetishist will feel much the same way about their gadget fetish as a democratic idealist might view the sanctity of the voting booth.

In this milieu, there seems to also be a widespread belief that the companies collecting this data will share it publicly out of the warmness of their hearts.

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WANTED: Is Written Language DEAD OR ALIVE?

We are constantly altering the forms we have inherited from previous generations, and these changes are signs of life and vitality. Indeed: The things that don’t change, the forms that rigidify, come to look to us like death — and we destroy them.

Robert Greene (“48 Laws of Power”)

One of the sayings I find particularly enticing is the notion that “Written language is dead”. It appeals to our experiences of printed materials, tomes that appear as tombstones of bygone ideas. Yet today, this dogma itself is no longer valid.

Today, written language exists in the present. Written language lives and breathes according to the whims of an invisible hand that sweeps our attention from hither to thither. “Bells and whistles” give way to “ringtones”, and “ringtones” also succumb to other newfangled applications of fashion.

More and more writing is becoming less and less etched in stone, it increasingly billows among flyers scattered by the winds of change, becomes evermore formless, ephemeral and transient. Fixed data points give way to fluid data streams.

There is no need for remorse or backwards oriented attachment to the dead tomes of yesteryear or the innumerable generations dating back to the ancient past. We are not amoeba. We are, here and now, living in the present… — and constantly changing in order to better adapt to the future.

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